(By Sharon Selvaggio, Healthy Wildlife & Water Program Director)
“All is well!” says that annual statement from your drinking water company.
When you read that your drinking water is in compliance with regulatory guidelines, you might feel relieved. But, did you know that testing and regulatory requirements apply to only a small handful of pesticides? Yes, it’s true!
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 was enacted to ensure safe drinking water. This federal law has several limitations, however:
- It applies only to public water systems, not private wells.
- Regulations under the SWDA specify enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and nonenforceable contaminant goals (Maximum Contaminant Level Goals, or MCLGs) for certain pesticides and other substances. Enforceable means that water providers must test for and ensure the contaminant is not present above the the standard. Non-enforceable means that there is a recognition of the health risk if the contaminant is present above the MCLG level, but this health risk wouldn't violate the law.
- Only 13 pesticides are regulated with MCLs under the Act, such as glyphosate, atrazine, simazine, and 2,4-D. Not included are ~900 other pesticides registered for use in Northwest states, including those commonly found in Northwest streams, such as diuron (herbicide), metolachlor (herbicide), and imidacloprid (insecticide).
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) legal limits are sometimes out-of-date. EPA commonly reviews and updates its standards based on new science. Sometimes it takes activists (like NCAP, with your help) and others to pressure the government to change its standards or guidelines. But that’s not easy. EPA hasn’t added a new contaminant to drinking water regulations in 20 years!
Your state may have additional laws or rules, but in most cases, it is safe to assume that your drinking water is not being regularly tested for most pesticides.
Is that a problem?
If your drinking water is sourced directly from federal forestland, you probably have little need to be concerned about pesticide use. But if your drinking water intake is downstream of agricultural or urban areas, there’s a much higher likelihood of pesticides being in the water. And most water systems aren’t designed to treat pesticides.
Let us know what you think! Feel free to comment below.
Want more information about your drinking water source?
- Search for your water system’s annual water quality reports here. You should also get these from your public utility each summer.
- Find data about your public water system here, including histories of violations.
- You can see maps of your drinking water source watershed and point locations that might contaminate it here.
- For a more comprehensive view of what is in your water and to find information that won’t turn up in the utility reports, you can visit the Environmental Working Group’s National Drinking Water Database. Their database includes chemicals that may have been detected but don’t have a legally enforceable limit. Remember, this includes chemicals beyond pesticides. https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/
- On a private system….or just want more security by testing your own water? Your county health department may help you test for bacteria or nitrates. Alternatively, you can have your water tested by a state certified laboratory. Find one by calling the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or visiting http://www.epa.gov/safewater/labs.